Investing in clean water for a healthier Long Island


With rising fears of contaminated drinking water for residents across Long Island, I am disappointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal to cut $250 million from the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.

Since 2019, each state budget has included $500 million to keep New York’s water clean. Not only does this program prioritize the public’s health, it also helps create thousands of jobs, and even helps lower water bills for so many New Yorkers. These funds are used to repair water mains and replace lead pipes, and for the remediation of emerging toxic chemicals known as PFAS. Along with many of my fellow legislators, I believe that at least $600 million must be included in this year’s budget if we are to keep up with these demanding public health needs.

While the state has taken monumental steps since 2017 to address the need for clean drinking water, there is so much work that must be done to ensure that we meet the needs of all New Yorkers. If we are to properly address these issues with the state’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, an estimated $80 billion must be allocated by 2037, because the federal government will require states to replace all of their lead pipes and to implement more filtration technology to remove toxic chemicals from our water.

Toxic PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” have been found in water sources across the state, and are an obvious threat to the public’s safety. According to a study done in Minnesota, it costs between $2.7 million and $18 million to remove and eliminate PFAS from municipal water. If we don’t implement legislation that bans the use of PFAS throughout multiple sectors in New York, we will surely be paying for it down the line.

As we continue to take samples from municipal water sources to test them for toxic chemicals like PFAS, it is also vital to the well-being of our residents that we invest in expanding New York’s capacity to test for other emerging contaminants. Even now, we are seeing backlogs for testing at Environmental Laboratory Approval Program labs, and those delays are only expected to get worse. It’s apparent that we need more resources to help labs expedite the testing process and, possibly, to test for more emerging contaminants in the future.

It is also imperative that we extend and fund the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program. By using federal funds during the pandemic, New York state was able to provide nearly $70 million in water bill assistance to low-income households. This program expired last summer, and it is not likely to receive any funding in the near future. The state now must step in and implement a program of its own to address the needs of its impoverished, disenfranchised and marginalized communities.

As a lifelong Long Island resident, I know that providing residents with plentiful, clean water is essential. While Nassau and Suffolk counties have seen success in the state’s Septic System Replacement Program, there is still much work ahead of us. Living on a barrier island means that we are on the front lines of the climate crisis and, therefore, are leading the fight for clean water.

Estuaries like the Long Island Sound are an extraordinary environmental and economic asset for New York, with an estimated economic value of $17 billion to $37 billion. Over 23 million New Yorkers live within 50 miles of the Sound, and more than 191,000 watershed jobs depend on its preservation. If we plan on keeping Long Island’s water clean, we need to ensure that we continue to fund the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.

Michaelle Solages, who represents the 22nd Assembly District, is the Assembly’s deputy majority leader and chairs the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus.